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Bass Musician Magazine’s Year of the Luthier – Tomm Stanley, Stonefield Musical Instruments

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How did you get your start in music?

As far back as I can remember I wanted to be a musician. I have recollections of trying to sing along to Jackson 5 albums when I was just a kid and after constant pestering from me, my parents sprung for guitar lessons when I was around 12 years old. They signed me up for classical lessons so that didn’t last long but I later bought a guitar with money I made mowing lawns and kept on playing and teaching myself. I was 18 or 19 when some friends with a band had scored a gig at an outdoor party but didn’t have a bass player. They asked if I could do it and, well, man… a gig! My first gig. I was definitely in on that action. I went out and bought a cheap P-bass copy and some kind of amp.

I pretty quickly realized that the instrument physically fits me better than a guitar (I’m 6’7”) and I really dug the role of bridging between rhythm and melody. I was a bassist from that point on and kept trying to scratch a living from music until I was about 24 when I finally had to make a choice: live in my car and keep trying or get into something with better prospects.

Are you still an active player?

I’m no longer in an organized band or out trying to make a living at it but have regular jam sessions with a handful of friends and participate in open stage nights at a few local clubs. I’m always practicing a new technique or style and do keep my chops as good as I can keep them. You never know when opportunity will knock… yeah, still dreamin’, even at this advanced age.

How did you get started as a Luthier? When did you build your first bass? 

I started tearing my instruments apart beginning with that first bass. It wasn’t too long before I realized I should have bought something better and I also learned about changing over to hot pickups. That lead to adding series/parallel switching, phase switching and other electronics mods. My dad was a building tradesman and the ultimate DIY’er. He taught me basic woodworking skills from when I was pretty young, so it wasn’t a great leap before the saws and files were coming out, firmly pointed at the bass.

The first bass I built, as in ‘start with a pile of wood/finish with a bass’ was during a winter-over in Antarctica. I was 30 and by that time life had taken me a long way from professional music. I was working the second of two winter-over contracts with the US Antarctic Program, supervising materials supply crews for construction projects at McMurdo and South Pole Stations. I had access to the McMurdo Station carpenter’s shop and decided to see if I could build a bass as a winter-over project. I had never seen a book on the subject and in 1994 there was no internet, so I sat down and tore apart a bass that I had with me, really looking it over and figuring out how it all went together. At the end of the day, the majority of an electric bass is just fine woodworking, so that was all pretty easy to figure out but I can remember struggling over how a truss rod worked. I understood the concept but really had no idea how they worked; I just had to reason it out.

I had no fret material so made it fretless and the station’s machinist got into the game, making me a beautiful brass bridge/tailpiece unit. Electronics were scavenged from the other bass and that was it, I was hooked. I wanted to be a Luthier.

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How did you learn the art of woodworking/luthiery?

As mentioned in the last question, basic woodworking came from my dad and then more advanced skills were learned on my own through trial and error, reading woodworking books and magazines like Fine Woodworking. I would just try to do the hardest stuff that I came across. Later on, closer to when I finally decided that if I didn’t try to make a business out of bass building I’d die wishing that I had, I was into every book and DVD that I could get my hands on. Most of what’s available is in the space of acoustic guitars and I have found some stuff on the making violins and cellos; ukulele’s too. It’s all related so every little bit helps.

Who would you consider a Mentor? 

I had no one to learn from so it was the magazines, books and DVD’s. Bob Benedetto’s DVD on making archtop guitars was an amazing discovery. His superb craftsmanship rang true with me and I play archtops, so seeing how the good ones are made was enlightening. I was so inspired by both the DVD and his book that I sought out and eventually bought a Benedetto guitar. I found a very early one: Benedetto number 12 from 1977 (s/n 1277). When you handle, play and closely inspect an instrument of that quality, you learn.

How do you select the woods you choose to build with?

For necks, I only ever considered using laminates. The strength to weight ratio is much better than with solid wood and the variability of individual boards is eliminated. Okume is used in acoustic guitars so the choice of neck timber was easy once I learned that okume is also available as laminates that are used in both the aircraft and marine industries. On the downside, we’ve found it just about impossible to shape a laminated neck with machinery, so there’s a lot of handwork involved on that side of our build.

Stonefield’s bodies are made from a 40mm thick core and a 10mm thick top. We have one and only one wood that we use for body cores. I came across it through trials with a lot of different woods. I wanted a bright tone but also wanted light weight; a difficult combination to find. Sustainability is an important value with me as well and, being a New Zealand-based company, I wanted to find something from the South Pacific region. Of course, using only oil finishes required that the wood have a natural beauty. It was a bit of a mission to find something that met all the criteria but when I tried salusalu, the search was over; it has everything that I was looking for.

The tops are largely decorative but they do alter the tonality as well. Using a dense, brittle wood like African wenge for the top imparts a real snappiness; a softer wood like NZ-grown cypress has a more mellow tonality. It’s pretty cool to try different top woods to see what they do to the tone. Fingerboard woods contribute as well. Regardless of the topwood or fingerboard, it’s never like a totally different instrument but, in a comparison to something visual, I think of it like drawing a line with freshly sharpened pencil vs. one that’s well used; crisp vs. fuzzy. I guess that’s how I would describe the difference in tonality depending on the choice of fingerboard and topwood.

How about pickups? What pickups did you use in the past? What electronics do you use right now?

Sorry, that’s Top Secret (laughs). As I’ve gotten older, I’ve lost the hang up of feeling that I must use some hot rod pickup. Again, look at the high quality archtop guitars. They have this amazing tone with just a single, small, relatively low output floating humbucker.

I spent a lot of time developing the electronics circuit that we use in the Stonefield Model One and it largely negates the need for hot rod pickups. I can take any decent, commercially available humbucking pickup and make it sound as thin or as fat as you want it to be with that circuit. We draw on that circuit for the lower priced line as well, which doesn’t have the mid control but still offers some of the widest tonal range on the market. Best of all is that we’re doing it with passive electronics, so no batteries, no overdriving, just nice tonal variation to suit any genre or style of music. Yes, the output signal strength is lower because passive cannot add but if the output isn’t enough for you, get a bigger amp and continue to live your life free of batteries.

Who were some of the first well-known musicians who started playing your basses?

We met Freekbass at the London Bass Guitar show. He was just cruising the exhibit hall and checking out what was there. A real gentleman, he introduced himself and asked if he could play one of our basses. I still think that’s kind of funny for some reason; seems like the conversation should have been the other way around. As he was having a go on that first instrument he just kind of stopped and looked at me saying something like, ”man, this is a nice bass.” Over the weekend he kept coming back so I realized it was more than just passing curiosity. I got his contact details and after a couple months of discussion and development time, it all lead to our Freekbass Signature Model.

freek-w-sig-model

How do you develop a signature or custom bass for an artist?

Discussions, trialing ideas, test, tune … emails and Skype calls. Ultimately though, for a signature model, the bass has to reflect the wants and needs of the artist while embracing what a Stonefield is. If it’s not a situation where I can supply that something special or unique the artist is looking for, I’m not interested. Conversely, if the artist doesn’t really just dig what a Stonefield is, I’m also not interested. It’s got be a two-way street and then the artist has an instrument that they can’t get anywhere else and we have an ambassador for the brand, not just someone playing a Stonefield with their name scrawled on it.

What are a few things that you are proud about your instruments and that you would consider unique in your instruments?

I think you’re going to need another interview! I’m going to need to lead into the answer for that question:

Learning to build basses by first learning how to build archtop guitars, violins, cellos … it makes you realize that there are features, materials and methods used in those instruments vastly superior to what we find in solid body electric basses or guitars. Beginning in the 1950’s the electric instruments became the subject of mass production, to be made cheaply and for every possible player, while the others largely remained the subject of skilled craftsmanship and made for select players that will provide harsh criticism if they are not receiving the sound and feel that allows them to express their inner voice. For concert grade instruments, price is the secondary consideration, not the primary one.

Mass production combined with mass marketing creates mass opinion that this or that is the best when, in a lot of cases, whatever it might be may not actually be the best. In marketing, the created perception is what matters, though that perception may not always be the factual reality. If I’ve been conditioned to believe that a brass bridge makes for the best tone, I buy it. Perception equals Reality. My observation: if brass made the best tone it would be used on the bridges of violins and cellos. It does make a good counterweight to heavy headstock tuning gear however. But, with the right marketing spin…

So I started with an interest in building basses but by the time I came around to the decision to form Stonefield, my years of corporate management experience would not let me step into this overcrowded market with another version of a P or J bass made with a different shape and interesting colours. I mean no offense to the bass luthier community at large but look at basses and what do you see?

I sat down and made a list of features that I’d always wanted as well as things that are on these other instruments and started making prototypes. Right from the beginning I promised myself that if I couldn’t create an instrument that was different and, most importantly, different because it was functionally better, not just different for novelty’s sake, then I wouldn’t bother. Along the way I learned why some of the items on my list are not incorporated on an electric bass but most of it stuck. In the end we have a Stonefield, an instrument designed from a blank piece of paper, incorporating elements from a wide range of musical instruments into a new kind of electric bass.

Okay, now to the answer to the question:

There is so much about a Stonefield that is unique. Obviously, the Tomm Stanley Tuning System stands out. I’m proud enough there to have put my name on it and there’s no question that it is the smoothest operating tailpiece tuner ever designed. And it looks cool too. The passive electronics with high, mid and low controls are just so darn versatile. That took about three years to get right and uses some pretty expensive componentry, but to get that range of tonal options without preamps and batteries was something unheard of. Floating wooden bridges; back-angled necks; neutral balance; stainless steel, brass and titanium hardware so you’re never, ever going to have rust … our company slogan, The Bass You’ve Always Wanted, is from the fact that this is the bass that I always wanted. Being either the inventor, creator or the designer of it all, I’m proud of it all.

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Which one of the basses that you build is your favorite one?

Being entirely honest, the one that I’ve not yet built; the Holy Grail is still waiting, somewhere out there. Looking at what I have made it would be the high-strung version of our six string. Six string basses strung E to E allow me to be a bassist and a guitarist at the same time. I love the versatility of that. With our titanium hardware option, weight-wise, you can hardly believe it’s a six string.

Can you give us a word of advice to young Luthiers who are just starting out?

Don’t do it! (laughs) McDonald’s is hiring! (laughs) I’m serious. (laughs).

Like everything, do it if you love it and feel compelled to. With a bit of persistence and marketing savvy you can make a living producing what people are used to seeing but if you decide to introduce something new and different make sure to come into the situation with your eyes wide open that in spite of the exploratory and creative nature of music, that open-mindedness doesn’t seem to readily apply to the instruments. People are pretty conservative when making a decision on where to spend their money, especially when so much might be on the line. It’s hard work to bring something like this into the market but once people settle on the fact that it is actually a good choice to make, and they make it, you can’t beat that kind of satisfaction. There’s huge satisfaction in someone wanting an instrument that you create and there’s very little on the coolness scale that can compare to seeing a world class performer on an instrument that you can remember as a pile of wood.

tomm-in-the-shop-115

What advice would you give a young musician trying to find his perfect bass?

Buy a Stonefield, it’s The Bass You’ve Always Wanted (laughs).

I’d say that a young player needs the best instrument they can get if they want to develop into the best player they can be. Unfortunately, that’s not always going to be an instrument they can readily afford. The typical approach of buying some affordable piece of junk and seeing if you like playing music sets you up for failure though (parents: don’t do this to your kids). Music is challenging enough without finding yourself in a situation where you’re fighting with an instrument. I wonder how many potentially world class players may have given it up or not pursued the interest because their first or second instrument was rubbish, making it all too hard? If you have a quality instrument and still decide that music isn’t for you, at least you can get a return on that spend in the second hand market. Distill that down to one nugget of advice: you will never regret buying quality.

What is biggest success for you and for your company?

Simply being accepted by the players. To me, it’s such an honour and privilege when someone chooses to purchase a Stonefield.

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Are you preparing something new, some new model or new design? Or maybe some new gear amps, etc?

For ages I’ve been dabbling with putting the Model One electronics into an outboard piece of gear. I’ve got prototypes of both a pedal and a rack mounted unit. It’d be nice to bring our tonal versatility to players that choose another brand for their instrument. That will happen, I’m just not sure when.

What are your future plans?

Keep looking for ways to push the boundaries of electric bass design but, as in the beginning, only for reasons that create a better instrument in one way or another; never just for novelty or appearances.

Is there anything else you would like to share that we have not included?

Are you sure you want to ask me that? (laughs)

Visit online:

m1-4s-160003-logo

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Bass Videos

Gear News: Ibanez & Graph Tech Launch Multi-Scale Bass with Cutting-Edge Tuning

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Gear News: Ibanez & Graph Tech Launch Multi-Scale Bass with Cutting-Edge Tuning

Ibanez & Graph Tech Launch Revolutionary Multi-Scale Bass with Cutting-Edge Tuning Technology.

Ibanez Bass, renowned for pushing the boundaries of innovation in the music industry, is proud to announce an exciting collaboration with Graph Tech Guitar Labs, pioneers in instrument technology. Together, they introduce the revolutionary SRMS725 5-string Multi-scale Electric Bass and SRMS720 4-string Multi-scale Electric Bass featuring Graph Tech’s cutting-edge Ratio® Machine Heads.

The SRMS725 & SRMS720, part of the esteemed Bass Workshop series, represent a fusion of unparalleled craftsmanship and state-of-the-art engineering. Boasting a mesmerizing Blue Chameleon finish, this instrument embodies elegance and performance.

At the heart of this collaboration lies Graph Tech’s Ratio Machine Heads – a game-changer in the world of bass tuning. Unlike traditional machine heads, (which use a single gear ratio for all strings, such as 20:1) Ratio® Machine Heads employ a calibrated gear ratio for each string position. Why? Every string reacts differently to tuning adjustments, making the Low E or B on a bass hard to dial in the tuning because they are so sensitive to any adjustment. Fine-tuning where you need it. With every string having the same feel and response, players experience unparalleled control over their instrument’s tuning, resulting in a predictable, precise tuning experience with the musician in total control. 1 turn = 1 tone on every string. This same feel and response carries over to ratio-equipped electric and acoustic guitars.

We found RATIO® machine heads to be extraordinarily accurate, and we were particularly impressed with how easy drop tuning is with them, especially when dropping to D on the fourth string and to A on the fifth.,” says Ibanez. “This characteristic makes RATIO® tuners incredibly well suited for hard rock and other heavier sounds, so we thought they’d be a perfect match for our SRMS720 and SRMS725 basses. We’re also aware that Graph Tech is entirely committed to continuous product innovation, which fully aligns with our philosophy at Ibanez. .”

Innovation has always been at the core of Graph Tech’s philosophy,” says Dave Dunwoodie, President at Graph Tech Guitar Labs. “With Ratio® Machine Heads, we’ve reimagined the tuning experience, providing musicians with a tool that enhances their creativity and expression. Teaming up with Ibanez to bring this technology to the SRMS725 & SRMS720 represents a milestone in our journey to redefine industry standards.

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Features

Bergantino Welcomes Michael Byrnes to Their Family of Artists

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Bergantino Welcomes Michael Byrnes to Their Family of Artists

Interview and photo courtesy of Holly Bergantino of Bergantino Audio Systems

With an expansive live show and touring, Mt. Joy bassist Michael Byrnes shares his experiences with the joyful, high-energy band!

Michael Byrnes has kept quite a busy touring schedule for the past few years with his band, Mt. Joy. With a philosophy of trial and error, he’s developed quite the routines for touring, learning musical instruments, and finding the right sound. While on the road, we were fortunate to have him share his thoughts on his music, history, and path as a musician/composer. 

Let’s start from the very beginning, like all good stories. What first drew
you to music as well as the bass? 

My parents required my sister and I to play an instrument.  I started on piano and really didn’t like it so when I wanted to quit my parents made me switch to another instrument and I chose drums.  Then as I got older and started forming bands there were never any bass players.  When I turned 17 I bought a bass and started getting lessons.  I think with drums I loved music and I loved the idea of playing music but when I started playing bass I really got lost in it.  I was completely hooked.

Can you tell us where you learned about music, singing, and composing?

A bit from teachers and school but honestly I learned the most from just going out and trying it.  I still feel like most of the time I don’t know what I am doing but I do know that if I try things I will learn.  

What other instruments do you play?

A bit of drums but that’s it.  For composing I play a lot of things but I fake it till I make and what I can’t fake I will ask a friend! 

I know you are also a composer for film and video. Can you share more
about this with us?

Pretty new to it at the moment.  It is weirdly similar to the role of a bass player in the band.  You are using music to emphasize and lift up the storyline.  Which I feel I do with the bass in a band setting.  Kind of putting my efforts into lifting the song and the other musicians on it.

Everybody loves talking about gear. How do you achieve your “fat” sound?

I just tinker till it’s fat lol.  Right now solid-state amps have been helping me get there a little quicker than tube amps.  That’s why I have been using the Bergantino Forté HP2 –  Otherwise I have to say the cliche because it is true…. It’s in the hands.  

Describe your playing style(s), tone, strengths and/or areas that you’d like
to explore on the bass.

I like to think of myself as a pretty catchy bass player.  I need to ask my bandmates to confirm!  But I think when improvising and writing bass parts I always am trying to sneak little earworms into the music.   I want to explore 5-string more!

Who are your influences?

I can’t not mention James Jamerson.  Where would any of us be if it wasn’t for him?  A lesser-known bassist who had a huge effect on me is Ben Kenney.  He is the second bassist in the band Incubus and his playing on the Crow Left the Murder album completely opened me up to the type of bass playing I aspire towards.  When I first started playing I was really just listening to a lot of virtuosic bassists.  I was loving that but I couldn’t see myself realistically playing like that.  It wasn’t from a place of self-doubt I just deep down knew that wasn’t me.  Ben has no problem shredding but I was struck by how much he would influence the song through smaller movements and reharmonizing underneath the band.  His playing isn’t really in your face but from within the music, he could move mountains.   That’s how I want to play.    

What was the first bass you had? Do you still have it?

A MIM Fender Jazz and I do still have it.  It’s in my studio as we speak.  I rarely use it these days but I would never get rid of it.  


(Every bass player’s favorite part of an interview and a read!) Tell us about
your favorite bass or basses. 🙂

I guess I would need to say that MIM Jazz bass even though I don’t play it much.  I feel connected to that one.  Otherwise, I have been playing lots of great amazing basses through the years.  I have a Serek that I always have with me on the road (shout out Jake).   Also have a 70’s Mustang that 8 times out of 10 times is what I use on recordings.  Otherwise, I am always switching it up.  I find that after a while the road I just cycle basses in and out.  Even if I cycle out a P bass for another P bass.  

What led you to Bergantino Audio Systems?

My friend and former roommate Edison is a monster bassist and he would gig with a cab of yours all the time years ago.  Then when I was shopping for a solid state amp the Bergantino Forté HP2 kept popping up.  Then I saw Justin Meldal Johnsen using it on tour with St. Vincent and I thought alright I’ll give it a try!

Can you share a little bit with us about your experience with the Bergantino
forte HP amplifier? I know you had this out on tour in 2023 and I am pretty
certain the forte HP has been to more countries than I have.

It has been great!   I had been touring with a 70’s SVT which was great but from room to room, it was a little inconsistent.  I really was picky with the type of power that we had on stage.  After a while, I thought maybe it is time to just retire this to the studio.  So I got that Forte because I had heard that it isn’t too far of a leap from a tube amp tone-wise.  Plus I knew our crew would be much happier loading a small solid state amp over against the 60 lbs of SVT.  It has sounded great and has really remained pretty much the same from night to night.  Sometimes I catch myself hitting the bright switch depending on the room and occasionally I will use the drive on it.

You have recently added the new Berg NXT410-C speaker cabinet to your
arsenal. Thoughts so far?

It has sounded great in the studio.  I haven’t gotten a chance to take it on the road with us but I am excited to put it through the paces!

You have been touring like a madman all over the world for the past few
years. Any touring advice for other musicians/bass players? And can I go to Dublin, Ireland with you all??

Exercise!  That’s probably the number one thing I can say.  Exercise is what keeps me sane on the road and helps me regulate the ups and downs of it.  Please come to Dublin! I can put you on the guest list! 

It’s a cool story on how the Mt. Joy band has grown so quickly! Tell us
more about Mt. Joy, how it started, where the name comes from, who the
members are and a little bit about this great group?

Our singer and guitarist knew each other in high school and have made music together off and on since.  Once they both found themselves living in LA they decided to record a couple songs and put out a Craigslist ad looking for a bassist.  At the time I had just moved to LA and was looking for anyone to play with.  We linked up and we recorded what would become the first Mt. Joy songs in my house with my friend Caleb producing.  Caleb has since produced our third album and is working on our fourth with us now. Once those songs came out we needed to form a full band to be able to do live shows.  I knew our drummer from gigging around LA and a mutual friend of all of us recommended Jackie.  From then on we’ve been on the road and in the studio.  Even through Covid.

Describe the music style of Mt. Joy for me.

Folk Rock with Jam influences

What are your favorite songs to perform?

Always changing but right now it is ‘Let Loose’

What else do you love to do besides bass?

Exercise!

I always throw in a question about food. What is your favorite food?

I love a good chocolate croissant.

Follow Michael Byrnes:
Instagram: @mikeyblaster

Follow Mt. Joy Band:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mtjoyband
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mtjoyband

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Bass CDs

Album: John Entwistle, Rarities Oxhumed – Volume Two

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Album- John Entwistle, Rarities Oxhumed - Volume Two

Album: John Entwistle, Rarities Oxhumed – Volume Two

Rarities Oxhumed – Volume Two is the second of the series of posthumous releases coming from John Entwistle.

Rarities Oxhumed – Volume Two is a compilation that was curated by drummer Steve Luongo, who served as John Entwistle’s producer, bandmate, business partner and good friend for many years. As Luongo states, “When I agreed to do two volumes of John Entwistle rarities, I knew volume two had to be even better than volume one. It is!” The collection of songs on Volume Two are from his years with the John Entwistle Band and include re-mastered versions of studio tracks including “Endless Vacation”, alternate mixes of tracks like “Sometimes”, and live tracks including The Who cuts “Real Me”, “Long Live Rock” and an epic version of “Young Man Blues”. The latest preview track to be released is the Who cut “Had Enough.”

Listen to “Had Enough” here: push.fm/ps/hadenough

Rarities Oxhumed – Volume One was quickly embraced by longtime fans as it featured gems like “Bogey Man” featuring Keith Moon, “Where You Going Now” (demo for the Who), and a raw live version of “Trick of the Light” recorded during the John Entwistle Band’s final tour in 2001. Deko Entertainment is thrilled to have been able to bring both volumes of this unearthed music of John Entwistle to the fans and forever solidify him as one of the greatest rock musicians ever.

For more information, visit online at dekoentertainment.com/john-entwistle

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Bass Videos

Artist Update With Mark Egan, Cross Currents

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Artist Update With Mark Egan, Cross Currents

I am sure many of you are very familiar with Mark Egan as we have been following him and his music for many years now. The last time we chatted was in 2020.

Mark teamed up with drummer Shawn Pelton and guitarist Shane Theriot to produce a new album, “Cross Currents” released on March 8th, 2024. I have been listening to this album in its entirety and it is simply superb (See my review).

Now, I am excited to hear about this project from Mark himself and share this conversation with our bass community in Bass Musician Magazine.

Photo courtesy of Mark Egan

Visit Online:

markegan.com
markegan.bandcamp.com
Apple Music
Amazon Music

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Bass Videos

Review: Minuendo Lossless Earplugs Live 17dB

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Review: Minuendo Lossless Earplugs Live 17dB

Minuendo Lossless Earplugs Live 17dB…

Minuendo Lossless Earplugs Live 17dB – Hearing protection has always been front and center on my mind because I love music so much, I cannot imagine my life if I were unable to hear.

You might remember back in 2021, we had a good look at the Minuendo Lossless Earplugs featuring adjustable protection. This system has a lot of very good features but there was always the question of how much sound attenuation to choose.

Now, the great folks at Minuendo have come up with a new version of their earplugs that has a set 17dB noise reduction. You still get a lot of the great features of the adjustables but you just don’t have to think about the specific sound level. In addition, this new version of earplugs comes at a very attractive price point.

For more information, visit online at Minuendo.com

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